By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – This weekend the usually quiet and somewhat faded glory of the Rio Jockey Club in Gávea will spark into life and recall the bygone days of high-society horse racing with the running of the Grande Prêmio do Brazil – the biggest prize in South American horse racing.
The perfect opportunity to polish your cuff links and brogues, this year’s race on Sunday, August 1st, promises to be extra special after recent changes at the epicenter of the city’s equestrian racing culture. Standing at 2.4 kilometers on turf, the trophy is the one prize that stands out above all others in the continent’s racing program, and will, as always, be hotly contested and controversial.
2010 has seen the club itself undergo something of a transformation in a bid to attract the crowds back to the grandeur of the grandstands. The gleaming marble hallways and polished wooden furniture, not to mention free entry, stunning views and the thrill of the races, make for a fine way to spend an afternoon.
Now a new bar and restaurant, expanded course-side seating and a marketing push to attract locals and tourists alike will come together for the Grande Prêmio, when prize money of R$400,000 attracts the great and the good of global racing.
The dress code is business-casual, keeping with the usual rules that flip-flops and shorts are banned in the “upmarket” stands, but around the world big race days are synonymous with high fashion, and Rio’s is no different. Business suits for the men, floating summer dresses and expensive hats for the women, as well as an annual fashion parade through the crowds in between the races.
The second entrance usually allows for considerably less formal attire, but again expect this event to see everyone making a sartorial effort.
From the tower by the finishing line a red-blazered official in traditional hunting gear announces the parading of the horses for each race courtesy of his trumpet, prompting those with an eye on the odds to head back into the hallways to place their bets.
Standard rules apply, with each-way (place), on the nose (vencedor), trifeta and quadrifeta (top three or four runners in correct order) the easiest options. Be warned that TV screens also show races in São Paulo at the same time, so be sure you are betting on the Gávea card.
This year the favorite to take the grand prize is Sal Grosso, the four year-old of American stock who is trained by Venancio Nahid and ridden by Luíz Duarte. Not far behind in the book makers sights is Flymetothemoon (sic), who, at a year older, knows the Gávea course well and, coming from the same stable, could also land trainer Nahid the prize money.
Last year’s winner Jeune-Turc does not make an appearance this time around, but the R$5.4 million that was bet in the lead up to that race looks certain to be surpassed.